Relationships are more life-giving than programs or structures.
It's tempting just to write QED and move on to the next post, but I'll expound a bit anyway.
He's absolutely right of course. Relationships must have primacy over programs and structures, and the latter should be evaluated on the basis of how they contribute to the former. Sort of a "Sabbath was made for humans, not humans for the sabbath" kind of thing (Mark 2:27). I'm convinced we desperately need to make the changes that would reflect having relationships as a real priority.
So, how do we act on this value?
In conventional congregations, it's going to be tough sledding. Most of our resources there are invested in large group activities that are inherently less able to nurture relationships, Sunday morning worship being the most prominent example. (I've written more about this fundamental mis-alignment here.) Programs and structures are already in place - dare I say entrenched - and institutional inertia is a hard force to overcome. Not to mention the chronic challenge of funding even when we're not in a historic recession. But this re-prioritization is important work and it needs to be done. At a minimum, there needs to be an emphasis on nurturing small groups or perhaps "counting conversations" as Reggie McNeal has suggested. Kudos to Peter for putting relationships at the top of his list.
But there is another option: start fresh. Start new communities that are centered on the primacy of relationships from the outset and let them generate the programs and structures they need to support that kind of life. New communities, where the small group is the primary expression rather than a programmatic add-on. In a word, house churches.
It's not an either/or situation. I do not believe we should abandon conventional churches rather than take on the hard work of re-aligning their priorities. But I do believe we should add another strategy, and invest at least some of our time, energy and funding in an approach that's naturally aligned with the primacy and priority of relationships.
If we want to take Peter seriously, and I believe we should, I think that's what we'll need to do.